A Colorado nonprofit group has won a critical round in a legal fight against the Church of Scientology, raising questions about whether Scientology has a legal right to keep hundreds of documents offline and out of the public eye.The church, through its nonprofit subsidiary Bridge Publications, is suing Boulder-based FACTNet on charges that the group pirated more than 1,900 copyrighted church documents and distributing them on CD-ROMs.
But FACTNet and its cofounder, former Scientology member Lawrence Wollersheim, contend that Bridge does not have legal copyrights to all–and possibly to any–of the documents in question.
In a ruling last Wednesday, federal judge John Kane denied Scientology’s request for summary judgment, saying that FACTNet successfully had cast doubt on the legal status of the documents. Kane’s decision sends the case to a full trial, which will be supervised by a court “special master” appointed to untangle the thorny copyright issues involved.
It’s not as if you can’t ever use your copyright to keep works out of circulation. You certainly can. Just try to find a clean copy of “Song of the South,” “Amos and Andy” or any of the frankly racist animations from Disney and Looney Tunes of days gone by. But you have to really own the copyrights. (Unrelated by related thoughts on copyright and suppression here.)